Pubdate: Thu, 09 Oct 2003
Source: Brattleboro Reformer (VT)
Copyright: 2003 Brattleboro Publishing Co.
Author: Daniel Barlow, Reformer Staff
Quoted: without credit, not that we mind


NEWFANE -- It's a dull gray and rainy Wednesday morning and Archer
Mayor has been awake all night. In addition to being a writer, Mayor
is also an EMT, a volunteer firefighter and the county medical
examiner. It is the latter role that caused his phone to ring at 1
that morning, sending him off to a late-night scene.

He has been awake since.

Mayor isn't a police officer, however, although his 14 novels have
been about the loves, actions and insecurities of cops, focusing
mostly on the Brattleboro Police Department.

He served as the town constable for four years, a job he says he
despised for its lack of glory. Police, he says, constantly have to
face the worst in human beings and are often asked to mediate
situations involving people with absolutely no sense of conflict resolution.

"I like my work as an EMT or medical examiner better," says Mayor.
"They still bring me to the scene, but I feel what I do helps people
through the grieving process in disasters and emergencies. I can still
be a human being."

Mayor's four roles, his four jobs, are all intricately linked. But we
are here to discuss his latest book in the Joe Gunther series, a world
in which at the end the bad guy is caught and the status quo, usually,
is restored.

In the new novel, oddly, only one of the above is true.

In the 14th Gunther mystery, a new character of sorts has been added
to the cast, although readers have seen the foreshadowing in Mayor's
previous novels.

"Gatekeeper," which is released this month by Mysterious Press,
introduces drugs -- mostly heroin -- as the new "villain" that Gunther
and his crew must come up against.

The story seems pulled right from the headlines of the Vermont
newspapers: a known drug dealer is found dead, a young girl is in the
hospital after an overdose and the soundbite governor wants answers
and a quick resolution to the state's growing influx of heroin.

"When you look at heroin in the United States, its easy to get kind of
lost because it is so huge," explains Mayor. "And when you look at
heroin in Vermont, it's easy to walk away and say that's not us, that
happens in Los Angeles or New York."

"Gatekeeper" takes Gunther and fellow officers Willy Kunkle and Sammie
Marten through Vermont's "heroin highway" drug route, down to seedy
apartment buildings of drug lords in Holyoke, Mass., and face-to-face
with the users and dealers of Rutland.

Just as he has done for his previous novels, Mayor did dozens of
interviews for the book, including local and state law enforcement
officials, prosecution and defense attorneys and social workers who
deal with heroin and other drug addicts.

In his research, one thing was clear, says Mayor, and that was that
the War on Drugs is completely pointless.

"Every cop I spoke to about this told me that it's a great job,"
explains Mayor. "It's interesting, it's exciting, it's good for the
community because it puts bad guys in jail, but that it is essentially

Useless? This year, the U.S. government will spend approximately 19
billion dollars on the fight against marijuana, cocaine, ecstasy,
heroin and others, the rate of about $609 per second, and the general
consensus of law enforcement is that it is a never-ending battle with
no hope of a goal in sight?

"The drug problem is as complicated to solve as it is easy to define,"
says Mayor.

In Mayor's eyes the perpetuators of the drug war include police
departments arresting waves of young kids -- "nobodies" as Mayor puts
it -- and calling it a big bust. It's also short-sighted politicians
who are eyeing the next election and looking to gather good headlines
that show he isn't soft on drugs. And it's a media that allows this
system to go unchecked.

"No politician would get elected by saying, lets spend, oh, $87
billion, and use it to help American families exist," said Mayor. "And
the results won't be seen for 20 years, so please vote for me."

In "Gatekeeper," each character becomes intimately involved with
drugs, from Gail Zigman's guilt over the destruction of her niece to
Detective Lester Spinney's frustration that the very thing he fights
in the streets may be entering his own home.

And each character comes out of the story with a different opinion on
drugs, on the war that nets an arrest approximately every 20 seconds
in the country and the myriad of ways to combat the urge to consume
the drugs.

"Narcotics and home cooking -- American capitalism, alive and well,"
reflects Martin in the novel. "Was this what advocates of legalized
drug dealing saw as the future? And who on which side of the debate
was under the biggest delusion? The futility of it all made her happy
she was just a line soldier, following orders."

For Mayor, "Gatekeeper" is the culmination of thoughts he's been
having for a few years, thoughts that were solidified from the
statements made to him by the officers at the front lines of the war.

"You can't just go after the route the drugs take, you have to go
after the appetite," he said. "You have to ask why there is an
appetite for these drugs."

Fourteen books into the Joe Gunther series, Mayor admits that his
latest books are getting more philosophical, whereas his previous
efforts were content with large body counts, entertaining detective
work and the slice of life portrayals and realistic Vermont characters
he is known for.

"As an artist I think I am finding my voice," said Mayor. "I know
these people now better than I know the people in my own life."

Outside, it is still raining. Somewhere in the state a drug runner is
likely driving nervously up Interstate 91 with a fresh supply for the
hungry mouths, an addict is likely preparing his morning needle and a
cop is busting a teenager for marijuana possession.

Mayor goes back inside his house, either to sleep or write.

And just as it does in the world of Gunther, the drug war continues to
march on.

"Gatekeeper" is scheduled to be released in hardcover later this
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake